Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
11:19 am
18 July 2019

Triumph and Tragedy on Denali

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Story: Theresa Campbell PHOTO: FRED LOPEZ

“We all have a story to tell, and this is mine,” Lake County Circuit Judge Larry Semento penned in “Tears in the Wind: Triumph and Tragedy on America’s Highest Peak,” where he reflects on the exhilarating joy of reaching the summit of the highest mountain in North America, followed by overwhelming grief when a group member fell off the mountain to his death.

Larry’s book is a true story of a guided expedition from May to June 1989 on Denali, 200 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, formerly known as Mount McKinley.

“The events that occurred on that climb dramatically affected my life, forcing me to face the full range of human emotions,” Larry wrote. “The experience was both immensely rewarding and tragically heartbreaking.”

He climbed 20,310 feet while linked by ropes with other mountaineers. It took two weeks to reach the top.

“It felt unbelievably good and rewarding after all the effort and months of preparation,” Larry says. He was in awe of the beautiful scenery at the top. After 30 minutes, it was time to go down the mountain.

“Most accidents happen on the descent, when people are more careless and anxious to get back down,” Larry says.

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The winds were near hurricane force while the group descended. Larry lost his balance, yet he quickly plunged his ax into ice on the mountain, not realizing 21-year-old assistant guide, Chris Hooyman, had just unhooked himself from the line to check on the situation. Chris was blown off the mountain.

Larry carried guilt for years that he may have been responsible for the guide’s death. However, others reminded him the guide was doing what he had been taught to do—help people in distress.

Thanks to the encouragement of his daughters and wife, Nancy, Larry put his recollections of the 1989 expedition down on paper, based from his journal and notes he had stashed away in a box. It took him more than a year to write about it.

“It was very hard,” he says. “Once I had it done, I was very happy I had done it because it was therapeutic. It was as if a load had been lifted off my shoulders.”

It’s possible the judge may write more books in the future. His court docket is mostly felony criminal cases, and in his spare time he enjoys reading true crime stories.

About the Author

Originally from Anderson, Ind., Theresa worked for The Herald-Bulletin for many years. After experiencing a winter with 53 inches of snow, her late husband asked her to get a job in Florida, and they headed south. Well known in the area, Theresa worked with The Daily Sun and The Daily Commercial prior to joining Akers. “I finally have my dream job. I’ve wanted to work for a magazine since I was a teenager, and I’m very excited to be here,” Theresa says. “There is such positive energy at Akers that it’s infectious.” Theresa has three grown daughters—Julia lives in San Francisco, Emily is in Austin, Tex., and Maria is at the University of Central Florida.
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